So I was persuaded (thanks Ales!) to give Fedora 17 another look: specifically, that I should give Fedora’s KDE a spin. I haven’t used KDE since SuSe 7.2 days, so that’s a long time ago. Practically a different galaxy, in fact. I’ll confess right upfront that I am not going to be able to do KDE 4.x justice, because it’s a huge thing to get familiar with. So all I can do is broad-brush impressionistic stuff, from (as far as I can imagine it) the perspective of a hypothetical someone who may not know their gcc from their awk, but does know they’d like not to use Windows 8 and wants lots of productive stuff easily to hand. So with all that said, how did I get on:
Notes on Fedora 17
- – Ugliest text-based boot screen from an installer disk for a main distro I’ve ever seen. See screenshot: it’s a shocker!
- – The graphical installer simply didn’t have any “Next” buttons, so I was flying blind (see screenshot). Thankfully, I guessed I could use Ctrl+N to mean ‘next’, but I doubt many people would intuitively guess this:
- – I didn’t see an option to install the KDE desktop, so the Gnome one got installed by default.
+ 3.5.2 LibreOffice (new and not OpenOffice)
+ 3.3 Kernel, nice and new(ish)
- Handbrake-gtk is NOT in the standard repositories
+ Stellarium IS in the standard repositories
+ Musescore IS in the standard repositories (though at 160M, it’s quite a big download!)
+ Keepassx IS in the standard repositories
+ Gimp 2.8 -pretty up-to-date
- VirtualBox is NOT in the standard repositories
- Opera is not installable from the standard repositories
- – Neither is Chrome (or Chromium)
+ Shotwell photomanger installed by default
+ Firefox 12 by default… not bang up-to-date, but pretty good.
- – The built-in Firewall disables browsing by Samba Client by default. I honestly don’t understand why they do this (it’s not just a Fedora feature). Fortunately, I know and I know how to fix it. Not everyone would.
- – Movie player can’t play my MKVs off the bat: but does offer to find MPEG-4 AAC and H.264 decoders. Wish it would just install them in the background (or by DEFAULT!!), really. For the auto-detected downloads then to FAIL to install (something about multilib versions conflicting and a mention of gstreamer-plugins-bad) is really poor. Fedora simply doesn’t play my movie collection.
++ Rhythmbox is the default program for handling audio files! (That will be the first distro I’ve seen where that’s the case, instead of the movie player)
++ Audio files play first time of asking.
+ Guake IS available from the respositories
- Dropbox is NOT available from the repositories
- – Gparted is not installed by default, but IS in the repositories. Meanwhile, the command line “parted” is part of the standard installation: what’s the point of giving ordinary users command line stuff and NOT giving them the GUI equivalents when they’re readily available? DVD ran out of room, did it?!
- Transmission is not installed by default, but it’s in the repositories.
- – - – Gnome 3. I still hate it. The default theme is OK, but not polished.
- – No apparent way to switch to a different desktop environment (like KDE).
+ Relatively painless to get Oracle working on the box, thanks to Gladstone.
So that was ye olde Gnome Fedora 17. Curate’s Eggish, I think: good in parts. A good selection of my most-desired software one simple ‘yum install’ away (Stellarium, Musescore, KeepassX and so on); a reasonable mix of quite-up-to-date software already installed (Firefox, Gimp, Shotwell, LibreOffice and so on); and some sorely-missed absences (Dropbox, VirtualBox, Handbrake, Chromium, Opera). They can all be sorted by various means, of course, but it’s the convenience factor we’re dealing with here, and not having them a simple ‘yum install’ away is decidedly inconvenient.
Of course, I was supposed to be using the KDE flavour of Fedora… what happened? Well, I simply hadn’t realised it didn’t get installed by default. So I had a second installation remembering to customise my selection of packages… if you blink, you miss it! Specific notes on KDE follow, therefore:
+ Konqueror… I always liked that. It’s looking a bit dated now, though. Seems odd to make it the default browser when Firefox is also present.
- Why is there a translucent square on my desktop and what am I supposed to do with it?
- Desktop effects are on in my VM, and making it run like treacle… must…turn….them….off. Phew.
- For some reason, though the network manager icon in the system tray says I’m connected, neither Konqueror nor Firefox connects to the Internet, even though I can ping www.google.com in a terminal.
- I don’t get the ‘activity’ paradigm. I can see it as a way of grouping applications, so you can build pre-populated “virtual desktops”, switch to them and have everything you need related to that project all there are ready to go. But it’s not exactly a natural way of working for me. Too rigid in some ways, too flexible in others… and I’m more used to the complete chaos of launching anything I like wherever I happen to be at the time!
- The network browser is nice, but doesn’t let me connect to my Samba shares for some reason, even though I can ping them. (Turns out the user authentication dialog had popped *under* the Dolphin file manager, so I didn’t know it was prompting for my username/password on the Samba server).
- – Audio opens in the movie player. I’m really beginning to hate that! Plays OK, though.
- – Movies won’t open in the movie player. Seems like it’s using the same movie player that Gnome uses, which is kind of pointless, and doesn’t like my MKVs.
This is just too hard. It’s like being in Paris and trying to speak schoolboy French, hoping the natives won’t mind too much. You know you’re doing it all wrong; and you know that the French have the best coffee and patisserie in the world, probably, if only you knew how to find or ask for them properly. But you can’t; and your mind just knows it’s so much easier on so many levels to stay in London and order a Big Mac. By which I mean that I can’t see that KDE is offering me much above and beyond what Gnome already gave me. I *suspect* that there’s a bazillion elegant things about KDE, but I can’t *see* them, and what I do see is just confusing and looks difficult. Meanwhile, if the deficiency in playing my video files is any guide, for example, we have a distro-related problem, and whether I run Gnome or KDE, that isn’t going to be rectified any time soon.
So my gut reaction is that KDE wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t especially wonderful, either. I was glad to see Amarok there as a future audio manager… but disappointed that Gstreamer problems affected my playback of video in KDE: where was the uniquely KDE player that would handle all my movies without the broken clunkiness of Gnome? Out of the box, KDE just felt like a different way of running into the same brick walls. I didn’t get the sense that a bit of perseverance and an open mind would help me achieve anything much.
I suspect that a purely KDE distro might not have some of these issues -might do KDE in a “purer” way, for example, where the uniquely KDE features, like activities, might then be more obviously worth re-thinking things for. But, for me, Fedora is not that game-changer.
All of which means… the Installfest is finished. Have I drawn any conclusions? Well…
Biggest loser: Ubuntu. I actually gave Ubuntu 12.04 yet another spin because I wanted to make sure my Gladstone script ran on it ok. At one point, I had a typo and the shell complained that the problem was at line 1065. So all I had to do was switch line numbers on in gedit… er, except that there’s no Edit -> Preferences menu to do that with! When you have to Google for switching on gedit’s line numbers, you know there is a profound usability issue! (Either that, or I’m stupid. I’ll vote for the former, but I realise I’m biased). Long story cut short: I think Ubuntu is appalling.
Middle-of-the-pack: Fedora, in it’s Gnome guise, funnily enough. It’s bleeding-edge enough to be useful, polished enough to be productive. Having said that, it’s installer is abysmal and it has a lot of gaps where easy access to key applications should be. Of course, it uses Gnome 3 and Gnome Shell… but if there’s a distro that could ever get that hanging together properly, it’s probably going to be Fedora at some point in the next version or three. I would definitely consider Fedora in the future, and I would possibly consider recommending it to my Grandmother as a Windows replacement… but I don’t think I could ever just hand her the installation DVD and tell her to get on with it.
Which brings us to… The Winner. The stand-out distro for me was Linux Mint Debian Edition. Very simple to set up, configure, use and enhance -with a lot of my most-needed programs available with a simple download from completely standard repositories. It looks good, behaves in boringly-familiar ways and any little niggles with its themes or placement of its main panel can all readily be rectified. It’s biggest drawback (for me) when I originally tested it was that Oracle 11g wouldn’t install on it nicely… but I’ve fixed that and my Gladstone pre-installer script now makes fully-functional Oracle 11g on the latest LMDE a walk in the park.
My only hesitation in switching to LMDE (I’m still writing this on a Centos box!) is that I have no idea where MATE is going (the fork of Gnome 2 that provides a comfortable, reassuringly-familiar interface without needing to dive into the abyss that is Gnome 3). As a fork of an old technology, though: how much future does it really have? Fedora devs calling MATE a “zombie” at one point doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence that MATE has a meaningful future, put it that way!
Of course, LMDE also has Cinnamon, a fork of Gnome 3 designed to look and behave more like Gnome 2 -but defintiely Gnome 3-based (and hence future-tech-proof, as much as anything can be). Maybe that’s the way to go: as I complained originally, LMDE’s real problem is the vast amount of choice surrounding it!
Anyway: I think I shall play some more before committing myself one way or the other (Centos ain’t broke!). But when I do, I’ll be switching to LMDE.